India has finally kicked off the actual groundwork for creation of four theatre commands, with four senior three-star generals being tasked to work out the structures in them to build an integrated war-fighting machinery.
The integrated maritime theatre command, air defence command, and two land-based commands for Pakistan and China, will all take concrete shape in the next “two to three years”.
The western theatre command will have its headquarters at Jaipur, while the MTC will come up in Karwar. The eastern theatre command will be based either at Kolkata or Lucknow, with the ADC at Gandhinagar or Allahabad.
Four existing commanders-in-chief (two Lt-Generals, a Vice Admiral and an Air Marshal) have been “nominated to work out and raise the structures” of the new tri-service commands with the help of officers from other services, in addition to their existing responsibilities.
“Having been dual-tasked, the four have started their work. The Army’s South Western Command chief (Lt-Gen Amardeep Singh Bhinder), for instance, has been asked to work out the modalities for the WTC. The new theatre commanders will only be appointed once the structures are in place,” said a source.
The theatre commands, once they are up and running, will first take over the “operational role” of the single-service commands under them. At present, India has as many as 17 single-service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 and Navy 3), which have very little synergy in planning and operations.
The single-service commands will gradually be phased out, with their other functions like logistics and training being progressively handed over to the new theatre commands. As of now, the Army’s existing Udhampur-based Northern Command, which looks after counter-terrorism operations in J&K, and the fronts with China in Ladakh and Kargil with Pakistan, is being left untouched due to its unique role.
The joint commands have been slightly delayed due to the strong objections of the IAF, which contends it will be operationally unwise to divide its “limited air assets” among different theatres. But the government is now resolutely moving ahead with the joint commands, which will place the assets and manpower of the Army, Navy and IAF under one operational commander in each theatre, in what will be the most far-reaching restructuring of the over 15-lakh strong armed forces since Independence.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh himself recently described the decision as “another major structural reform” that was progressing rapidly. “With the formation of theatre commands, the armed forces will also have to develop integrated operational concepts and doctrines to fight jointly,” he said.
Asked about the IAF’s objections, the sources said “there will be winners and losers” whenever a transformational change is undertaken. “India does not have the luxury of surplus today. We have to operate in a joint manner with whatever we have,” said a source.